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Tuesday, 24 September 1974
Page: 1328

Senator STEELE HALL (South AustraliaLeader of the Liberal Movement) - I support the motion that the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill be read a second time. I do so in the hope that it will be passed and that there will be support for the amendments which I have circulated for the inclusion of secret and compulsory postal ballots as a requirement for the making of a decision as to whether unions should amalgamate. I listened with interest to Senate Button who, I thought, quite skilfully defended the Bill that his Government has placed before the Senate. I say that he was skilful in the sense that, from what I heard of his speech, he did not call the Government's opponents union bashers in adopting the usual, typical defence that one hears from so many of the members of the Australian Labor Party and the union movement. This defence is used against those who criticise or involve themselves in union affairs from a right of centre political position. But despite his skill he was unable still to offer any further reason why the Senate should support the Bill in its present form.

I was amused to hear him say that he did not want the industrial scene in Australia to develop into a situation in which 2 giant corporations were facing each other- industry on the one hand and the unions on the other hand. My mind immediately turned to the confrontation this week, if one could call it that, between the Government and the union movement in Australia and to the fact that the Government of Australia will go on bended knees to the union movement and ask it to co-operate in restraining the inflationary spiral in Australia. If there are not already 2 giant corporate structures, I would not know of any better description of the prevailing position that would fit Senator Button's requirements.

This leads me to the proposition that the most powerful force in this country are the unions. They are far more powerful than the Government that tries to manage our affairs at this moment. They are far more powerful than the greatest corporation that manages industry or commerce in Australia. The result of confrontation between industry and unions in the last several years has invariably been the success of the union viewpoint. When honourable senators speak to those who manage the commercial ventures of Australia, they will know who regards the other as the most powerful sector in the community. It is a somewhat weak defence to say: Hands off the union movement. The shareholders in a company are not made to vote on the internal affairs of their company. Let us have the same freedom and lack of interference with the union movement. Let us look at the position of the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd- the example used earlier- the Prices Justification Tribunal, the trade practices legislation and the consumer protection standards. I would ask Senator Button and his colleagues whether they would like similar legislation or legislation on a parallel form to be applied to the union movement in Australia.

Senator Donald Cameron - That has got nothing to do with it.

Senator STEELE HALL -Of course it has everything to do with it. For instance, if BHP and every other company in Australia were to say that they would adopt the use of secret, postal compulsory ballots, such as the amendments which I will move require, but that they would ask as a concession that the unions accept the same sort of oversight of the quality of the services they give to the community and the same oversight of what union officials are paid for their services, we know what the unions in Australia would say. The unions would not accept restrictions and oversight parallel to those which companies in Australia have to accept. The comparison has been very poorly made. It is a fact that the one great, last undisciplined grouping of power in Australia is in the hands of the unions. It has as great an effect on this country as the national Government of Australia. It is outside the control of the electors of Australia. This is the great argument that rages in the community today as the Government of Australia goes cap in hand to the unions to ask for their cooperation. I certainly would not approve of this Bill without the safeguard that every unionist should be required to vote in a secret postal ballot.

Senator Buttonwent on to say that we on the Opposition side did not understand union affairs. I certainly do not understand as much about union affairs as he does. But the honourable senator presumes wrongly if he believes that we have had no experience with them. We know of very well run unions whose leadership is a model for the rest of Australia and we know of some very badly run unions. I have developed that story in another parliament in Australia and I will not bore the Senate with the same description of the shameful affairs of some unions in this country, some of which, lamentably, are in my home State of South Australia. Their affairs should be subject to the scrutiny of the police in the State in which they operate, but they are not because these matters have been deliberately kept out of the hands of the police. Therefore, there are all standards in the union movement and some of them are less than desirable. But the basis of this Bill is such that it cannot be supported unless the power over unions is widened. What is more democratic in this community than to involve every member of the union in one of the most major decisions he will make in his life as a member of that union?

Senator Greenwoodin addressing himself to this Bill raised a number of objections and I suppose I would agree with almost every one of them. I could have no disagreement with him in the way that he has gone through the Bill and pointed to its various defects, but I would suggest to him that nearly every one of his objections to the Bill is overcome by the amendments which I have circulated in this House. I would suggest that it would be better for the progress of union amalgamation in Australia, which most people in this country seem to agree is desirable in some form, if the Opposition were to adopt a positive view and try to amend this legislation as it ought to be amended according to its viewpoint, and to put the onus back on the Government on a particularly penetrating point which I will mention in a moment. Senator Greenwood said: 'Let the membership decide.' I could not agree more fully with him and that is the view I have taken in relation to the amendments which will be made to this Bill.

In South Australia we have come through one of the most debilitating strikes we have seen for many a year. Because the Transport Workers Union of Australia in South Australia and the Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia, South Australian Branch, could not agree as to who should handle the loading of steel at the new steel wharf in South Australia, 10,000 tons of that commodity which was in short supply then was denied to South Australian manufacturers and it cost the South Australian community, I have no doubt, some millions of dollars, not simply because a certain amount of steel was not sold in my State but because orders were not accepted by industry because it could not fulfil them. Let me take a little further the story of that fruitless and stupid strike which went on for so long and which the Labor movement in South Australia made no early attempt to settle. The upshot was that the picket line was broken by about a dozen drivers of the Transport Workers Union with, of course, practically the whole community of South Australia backing them. A meeting of the Transport Workers Union was held in the Trades Hall some 3 weeks ago at which 49 people attended and a decision was made at that meeting to expel the two leading drivers who broke the picket line of that 5 months old strike at the Adelaide wharves. The decision was made by 49 people out of a reputed membership of 5,000.

It is interesting to note how the affairs of this union were conducted. It was deliberately stated at the meeting that no assessment as to who was a member of the union would be made at the meeting because legal action which possibly could be taken against the decision to expel the 2 members who broke the picket line would not be successful if members of the union who attended that meeting were not known by name. The person who informed me of the proceedings of that meeting was not a member and simply went in off the street and observed all proceedings at that meeting. It was interesting to note also that the next day it was claimed that 110 people had attended the meeting and made the various decisions whereas in fact 49 attended. That is an example of the practices of those unions that are as badly led as the Transport Workers Union is led in South Australia. It is leadership of low standard and it is regarded as being of low standard by every good unionist in my State who knows of it. Can we condone those sorts of activities and the use of devious methods of union manipulation by a few stirrers at the top? In this instance they did not require even proof of financial membership for admission to that union meeting. If those standards are applied to union amalgamation we will see a long period of very harmful dissension in the union movement.

I would have thought that there would be no objection from a Labor Party which believes in compulsory voting in all parliamentary elections and which, I understand, believes in compulsory voting in local government elections and will force people to vote and fine them if they do not, to the application of that principle to the union movement which in many ways is more powerful in this country than the Government itself. I would like to think that the Liberal Party of Australia could drop its insistence on voluntary voting. I do not want to do the Party an injustice but I understand that it is part of the Liberal Party's policy. I wish that that Party could be realistic and understand that compulsory voting is here and that we will get a far more democratic answer from the community if we are perhaps a little less emphatic about the democratic way in which people can or cannot have the right to vote. My own Party has a policy of voluntary voting and I use my right as a member of a liberal party to vote as I see fit on this issue and propose policies as I see fit to suit this issue. Certainly something has to be done in Australia to take the democratic way out of the impasse which we are in, in which unions outside the electors' delegated authority can run this country in very large measure. The one method that can be democratically used is to apply the same voting procedures to major union decisions as apply to the election of members of Parliament.

I would draw the attention of honourable senators to a notice in this morning's media that the New South Wales Government is going to move for compulsory voting at local government elections. This is certainly a significant move, if it is carried through, for the non-Labor side of politics and should, I believe, give courage to those who are still drawn to the very liberal but, I believe, theoretical approach to voting which is that in all cases it should be voluntary. The extension of elector control to the last great, undisciplined power grouping in Australia is essential. This Bill deals only with a fraction of the decisions that would be made by the union movement but it gives an important opportunity to this House to provide for the widest possible involvement of union members in their union affairs, particularly on this important decision. I believe that the greatest safeguard that we have in Australia in times of crisis is the overall opinion of the great number of people who live in this country. The inflationary scene today would be handled fairly expeditiously if the opinion of the Australian public was heeded by its various leaders. last night I attended a meeting in the Unley Town Hall of 600 people who came to hear a professor of economics define the points of the Adelaide Plan, as it is known in South Australia. That meeting was held under the auspices of the Liberal Movement. There is very great concern in the community about and a recognition of the gravity of the economic situation we face. The Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) has used as one of his supporting points for the passage of this Bill the need to prevent inter-union competition in price rises and claims for wage increases. I am sure that he would be backed by the public of Australia, including a majority of unionists, if his Government had the courage to act according to its general desires. In this instance he has an opportunity to accept an amendment which is thoroughly in line with his political beliefs on compulsory voting. He cannot argue against the fullest extension of the democratic process that every person should vote in a decision which affects the general community at large.

I ask the members of the Liberal and Country Parties in the Senate to allow this Bill to go through the second reading stage so that we may make a very significant advance in our approach to the great problem of union control and union development in Australia and so that we can make a very great advance by inserting into this

Bill a principle which I believe would, soon after, be widely represented in other legislation affecting conciliation and arbitration. I support the Bill on the proviso that I will be able to move my amendments.

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